Completely integrated company IT infrastructure – The future or a daydream?

The age of big mainframe computers and synthesizers was in 80’s. Many things have changed since then, yet too many companies still invest in legacy systems which are heavy, complicated and require an army of IT staff to run them.

In the last few years we have seen new innovative solutions entering to productivity and sales tool space. This should be very welcomed by sales professionals, as the case is rarely so, that a single big system, such as salesforce or AX/Dynamics, can serve efficiently everybody, even if they seriously try to convince you so.

So, how we manage to operate and sync all specific tools needed by different units within organizations. We don’t. That’s why the question is, who does these tools serve and what is their real value to user and “observer”? In fact, do we need all this data automation, at all cost? Clearly, management does not need the same tools than field force and vice versa.


The problem in a nutshell

The problem arises when companies find out that the system they use, whether fully fletched CRM system or ERP, does not answer to the need of all different areas of daily operations. Naturally, any management looking for competitive advantage should become interested in adding the new “efficient and better” tool to their IT infrastructure.

So, adding a new tool is approved. But the what happens when there are several different applications which all contain some amount of overlapping information? It is not difficult to see that maintaining all of this “up to date” separately in all different systems, is a task which is not only quite impossible, but does not make any sense when it comes to time consumption. But integrations on the other hand bring their own problems. In the best case it exists by default and even works faultlessly. In many cases it doesn´t work that well and sometimes it must be built in order to get something really useful.

Not all companies using CRM and ERP are big and can’t simply afford time and money to get this done. Sure, the optimum solution would be that we sync this overlapping information automatically, so it is always the same and updated in all of these different systems. Those who have been dealing with integrations, knows that this is not without challenges.

Let´s think of a simple example: we want to integrate our customer overall information (just name, address, contact person, sector and other criteria, without any situational information) between two systems. What does it require? Well, let´s assume first that this information is up to date in system 1 and we want to get it synced into system 2. System 1 has an interface of functions that can be used to fetch this information and then it has to be decided what field in system 2 corresponds some field in system 1. When this is clear the data can be copied from system 1 to system 2.

So what we see here is that there has to be a component which acts kind of an interpreter between the two systems. Ok, whose “job” it is to provide this component then? Of course this works so, that smaller system providers have to provide these components to connect to bigger systems, because the leading CRM companies don´t see any reason to build connections to systems which are not really globally renowned or they do not contribute to their ecosystem in positive way. On the contrary these smaller “apps” might even be taking away some revenue from the incumbents.

Still, it is clear that even covering those two big ones there is many and many more systems still out there that we are not providing connection by default. We of course can build the connection to almost whatever system but it would be a customization project then, unless there are many companies desiring the connection to that particular system.


How to validate if integration is worth doing?

Here the real headache arises. The customer may see value in tool that answers to a specific area of sales but if it doesn´t integrate with their core system, does it make any sense? What is reasonable cost to buy this connection as a customization? How can you measure and reflect the cost in productivity or in saving of time so that it is worth the investment? Hardly any of us have a direct answer to these questions.

Here we have to go back to the basics and think first how it would work. Would the connection need to be two-directional or is one-directional enough. If one of the two systems is clearly the system where the data entry happens (new data is created) it may be enough that this data is created there and then transferred to the other system where it is further processed then. If something has to go to the opposite direction, then it has to be two-directional. It can be said that creating two-directional connection is at least twice as much of work than creating one-directional, many times even way more.

Company´s internal data process flow becomes vital and it has to be clear. You have to think what particular information you have to transfer and how often is enough. And this depends really about what information we are talking about and what are the systems, there is no general answer.

And now coming back to the original question. Yes, the integration of all systems in company IT infrastructure is going to be reality in the future but when interviewing different companies now it comes apparent that currently it is still a daydream. I believe we are just taking our first steps to that direction. The integrations between systems are already a business of it´s own, but it most probably will grow exponentially.

Before we are there, where all systems talk to each other seamlessly and effortlessly, we have to still rely to our own common sense. We have to

  • first identify what is the purpose and output of different systems in our IT infrastructure.
  • Then we have to identify which is the share of the data that is common to these different systems.
  • Then we have to identify if the direct integration is absolutely crucial or is the use case and the need something you can manage by transferring data through manual operations.
  • Finally if the answer is that we really need an integration, we have to clearly and specifically be able to demonstrate how it works in reality.

As the doing of the integration comes only fifth after these steps, maybe the discussion should not start from how you can integrate it, when presenting a new solution. I think the first thing is still, what do you achieve with it.

The Writer: Tuomas Härkönen, Director of Technology, THE RUDOLF Oy
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Are we getting it all wrong when choosing a CRM?

There’s a saying in the construction industry: “Nobody has never been fired for buying a Caterpillar.”

The same idea seems to apply in the CRM world. If you have no idea what to buy – because they all seem to do the same job – buy the big brand name. But while this logic may work in the wheel loader space, it does not make sense in sales, now or in the future.

So why do companies subscribe to legacy systems when there are so many great smaller players in the market? We took this question at heart when we developed The Rudolf, our real-time, mobile sales solution designed specifically for sales professionals to take your sales operations to the next level.


The CRM choice

In the US, the decision to buy a legacy system is still being made by the IT department. Chief Marketing Officers, whose role today is becoming as big as the CIO’s, do not always fully understand what’s happening in the sales field. They want to measure marketing results. But those objectives are difficult to achieve when someone who does not specialize in sales is choosing the tools they work with. The sales teams’ operational requirements are too often viewed as secondary.

In Scandinavia, the approach seems to be more holistic. Companies are looking through a wider lens the implications of using a CRM. CRM has become a part of the digitalization process, unlike in the US, where the operational logic is still very much focused around lead generation and funnel activity. In the rest of Europe we also found that, especially in smaller companies, the sales directors have a bigger say in CRM decisions. But, the bottomline is that, IT and Management still believe that “one-size fits all”. But, it does not in the future. Every department will have their specific tool to work with.

Think about it. If the National Tennis Federation forced every ATP-ranked player to play with the same specific racket model, do you think the pros would accept it? No way. They want to choose the racket with the individualized features that will help them win. So, who is the pro in the sales department of a company? It’s the salesman.


A new sales era

So, why might we be getting it all wrong when choosing a CRM for our company?

Let’s assume that CRM’s main function is to be a “contact directory” and help users to forecast based on numbers. Makes sense, but if the future of sales is also about customer insights and analytics, how do we obtain this information and what information do we want to gather to do our job better?

CRM still tend to measure too much numbers and leads. The leading CRM and “legacy” producers have neither adhered fully to this “future of CRM” trend, nor they have improved related dramatically processes over the past 10 years, despite all of the new apps and platforms that have been developed since then.

The fact is that, the logic of lead generation and funnel feed is becoming somewhat “old school.”

In the new era of sales, there are other parameters to measure and focus on. For example, what is the value of real time market insights and customer understanding. Or simply measurement of how “our sales people” interact with the client and efficiency of extracting information or advising client?

Millennials, for example, are “social engagers” and do not want to be measured as numbers in the workforce. And personally, I do not know anybody who likes their performance measured in histograms.

But if you do, what are you really measuring? How many leads you have generated and their success rate? Or the substance and accuracy of the market insight you have provided? You can’t measure that on histograms or pie charts. And didn’t somebody say, that the future is all about data and how well we use it?

The world of CRM and the way we think about sales and efficiency in companies is changing. Many things within the process of sales calls and visits will change dramatically in the coming decade. One of these changes will be in reporting: It will become partly obsolete.

Just think about it, I’m a product of the MTV generation. I could barely watch music videos for three minutes. But the new workforce is happy with five-second tweets and snapchats. And in many cases, in order to reach your millennial colleague down the hall, you’re better off sending a text than an email.


Accessible innovation

So, why do we still subscribe to decades-old technologies and process thinking that does not converge with future working methods, ideas and behaviors? There is a plethora of innovative new tools and apps in the market that do.

These apps are easy to learn and use, and cater to the operational and information-gathering needs of the modern worker and company. They are also fast to deploy and integrate as add-ons to your CRMs and ERPs. Moreover, they are customizable to individual working methods – unlike existing legacy systems. The Rudolf was built on this new user logic, and was designed by sales people for sales people to optimize your process and maximize productivity.

So before you decide on your CRM, think about what you really need, who needs it within your organization, and how they are going to use it. Claiming that your CRM increases productivity might not be wrong. But as long as your competitors are using the same CRM, it is the processes, add-ons and the people – not the tool– that make the difference in productivity.


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